Thursday, March 22, 2007

Translator Edith Grossman

According to today’s Writer’s Almanac, today is “the birthday of one of the few translators who has become something of a literary celebrity herself, Edith Grossman, born in Philadelphia (1936).” In a speech Ms. Grossman gave in honor of Gabriel García Márquez, she said of translation that it “is an act of critical interpretation” and she goes on to discuss the idea of fidelity.

Here is the rest of today’s entry in the almanac, which is interesting because it talks a little about how she got into translation and what choices she made while translation Mr. Márquez:

“Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, but for some reason Grossman became obsessed with the Spanish language when she was in high school. She said, “My high school Spanish teacher just reached me. I said whatever this woman is doing I want to do.”

Grossman won a Fulbright grant in 1963 and went to Spain to study medieval Spanish poetry. But when she began to read the poetry of Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo, Grossman decided that contemporary Latin American literature was too interesting to ignore. She began translating contemporary Spanish novels, and then in the mid-1980s, she got her big break when she got a chance to translate Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera.

She knew that one of Márquez’s favorite English authors was William Faulkner, so she decided to use Faulkner's style as a guide for her translation. She said, “I didn’t use any contractions in the narration, and I used Latinate words, polysyllabic words, instead of German monosyllables.” When Grossman's translation of Love in the Time of Cholera came out, it was such a success that Grossman was able to quit teaching and begin translating full time. She has since translated all of the new books that Márquez has published.

In 2003, she published a translation of the Spanish classic Don Quixote. Grossman wasn't sure she could do it until she finished the first sentence. Her version of the sentence is, “Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.”

When it came out in 2003, it was hailed as the best English translation of the novel in decades, perhaps the best American translation of the novel ever completed.”

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